This is a true story of feeling great, only to find out you’re knocking on death’s door and don’t even know it. This account is presented in first-person format, containing thoughts, recollections and dreams on a very personal level as they erupted in my brain during my 12-day hospital stay and beyond.
The photos presented herein were taken in a vague attempt to journalize this life-altering experience.
I underwent a heart cath procedure on 4/22/2021 and wondered why it only lasted 10 minutes? I must be in great shape! I was dancing aerobically with 5-pound weights 90 minutes a week, riding my bicycle to keep my legs strong, and maintaining my A1C score at 6.3. Twelve years ago at age 53, I had received two life-saving heart stents, so I had quit smoking and worked out to stay healthy and take care of my body.
So the reason for the super-short abbreviated cath procedure was because, actually, my arteries were 99-100% blocked. The doctors strongly STRONGLY urged me to stay in their care and not leave the hospital to go home to that beautiful place where I had been weeding the gardens and getting ready for spring weather to break. They wanted me to remain sealed off in their antiseptic building, waking me up every 5 minutes to check my blood pressure and pulse and make sure I was still breathing.
How could they expect me to turn my back on all that upcoming seasonal wonderment at home and resign myself to their seemingly urgent medical advice? I was fine! I felt great! They probably confused my test results with someone else’s like they do in old movies.
Regardless, the medical world was convinced that I needed to stay in the hospital and await open heart surgery. So I did. Although by that point I was in shock at what was looming ahead for me and my poor beleaguered heart.
Looking out the windows of that hospital room I wept freely, and mourned the beautiful skies and world of springtime that I was missing. But the entire time, whenever I wondered why I was there, I heard the Lord say: “I led you here.” This message came to me repeatedly, so after awhile I began to accept it and the fate that lurked ahead.
Throughout this entire time, I was surrounded by angels. Many of the nurses and people who attended to me were undoubtedly divine, but my own children were transformed from mere people into the most angelic of beings as they stood by me, prayed, and visited me during my darkest moments when I was not even conscious. But my ultimate angel of all was my husband, Michael. He waited on me, brought me everything I could ever have wanted and the lists of things I requested from home. He was so loyal and loving, he took me home from the hospital a day early because he missed me so much. I have never ever felt love like this from any man, and the envelope in which he wrapped me is so thick and unbreakable that it is incomparable.
* * * * *
Mon. 4/26 surgery eve – After mucho sweating and testing and jabbing I finally fell asleep at about 3 a.m. the morning before surgery. That’s why it was such an unexpected and unwelcome surprise when a nurse woke me up 5 a.m. to ask what I deemed a silly question.
The previous morning that same nurse had spoken uplifting and comforting words, so I calmed myself and apologized, telling her that her kindness outweighed such bizarre questions. “I wish you wouldn’t have woken me up from such a sound sleep to ask me about something so irrelevant,” I explained, still wishing that I were under the blanket of sleep instead of conversing with her.
I added that it wasn’t the question that I found as upsetting as the lousy timing of the question.
Of course, weeks later I realized she may have needed to wake me up because maybe I was dancing a little too closely to the grim reaper.
Monday night April 26, 2021 – Surgery eve – I closed my eyes and “visited” everyone I loved – I sat in the living room with my husband Michael and our dogs, Zoey and Mosie. I saw them on the couch with Michael watching TV in a quiet surrounding…Visited each child and touched their hands…petted the dogs and wondered if they felt me there…did my mentally disabled daughter know I was there with her? bet she did … just in case it was the last time…
* * *
Tues. & Weds. post-surgery recollections: Mack was the nurse man who tended to me when I was waking up in the recovery room. I think of him as the recovery room warden.
My first post-surgery memory is feeling claustrophobic and being completely out of it, I vaguely recall removing the ventilator breathing hose. “I can’t breathe!” I gasped. “If you can talk, you can breathe,” Mack answered nonchalantly, putting the ventilator back on my face.
He then told me that I “ripped” the ventilator off and told me not to do that again. I don’t remember that but I do recall grasping a pitcher of water on the table nearby and chugging it, then vomiting it up.
After that he put the breathing machine back on me and would only allow me sponge sticks with water, and only if I begged politely. He said my oxygen levels weren’t high enough and had me on the machine all night until next shift came in.
His shift ended and he was replaced by a woman who was compassionate and kind and removed the tube and gave me ice chips. My heroine.
And although it was a rough night with Mack, truth be told I was not the easiest patient in the world. Thus, it’s safe to say that he pulled me safely through the darkest night of my life, so “thank you” Mack, from the bottom of my heart.
* * *
First four days longest sleep was under 3 hours. I wake up disoriented and wondering what I am supposed to do? When I sleep “in bed” I typically wake up drenched, which really is uncomfortable and freezing and as I cannot really bathe well right now is gross. This is especially true of my hair being drenched in sweat and unable to wash it. Yucky. Nurses have to change my sweaty gown, so infantile. Feel so helpless and useless.
Third shift Nurse Sheryl was amazing. She was attentive and kind on a busy night when I needed quite a bit of attention and assistance. She did not hesitate to grab a blanket to warm my legs or an ice cold Sprite zero to quench my thirst.
I feel lucky and grateful to have experienced the nights she took care of me. Thank you Sheryl. Although on one of those nights I called security for a scary disruptive patient screaming obscenities at staff, that person was scaring me, and I couldn’t stand the mean things they were yelling at you.
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May 1, 2021 this is a verbatim transcription of a recording I made on my cell phone in the hospital at 11:20 a.m. of my DREAM. It is being typed 21 days later, on 05/21/2021 and I have no idea what it’s going to be…
“…it’s eleven o’clock in the morning and the woman came in to clean the room and wake me up, thank God, although she didn’t mean to wake me up because I was having a nightmare.
(… a little boy)- muttered
“I was lost, I went somewhere to do something specific, got lost, I was in all kinds of bowel, old buildings of old factories and dirty places and water and I could get, I was trying to find the way back to my car, which was parked on a city street.
“And a little boy was trying to help me and we ended up going through some ‘rave’ places with young people (I can still visualize this – these rave clubs were located within these nasty, water-on-the-floor, filthy bowel ugly buildings) and dressed all fancy in these dives of old factories and then we were walking up French Street (recollection – in the vicinity of 10th-12th on French, looking west) and I saw a huge gray building with gray flatness, it looked it was from ‘Metropolis’ building (the 1920s movie).
“And people were complaining, we walked by the ball field (on the other side of the street) and they were complaining that it wasn’t their city anymore. And I saw the ‘Morecock Company’ (this was a sign I observed somewhat off in the distance actual memory) but it was abandoned, all these abandoned companies and places and I was trying to get the boy to run because I couldn’t find my car, and we needed to hurry, but the faster we ran the sicker he got. And then there was a little girl with us and he said that it was her that made him sick to run…
“And then the girl(cleaning lady) came in and woke me up. Thank God!”
* * *
May 2, 2021 – wrote down this DREAM as soon as I awoke: “Just got of class near 10th and State, wandering toward 10th and Sassafras. I could see lights were on in the distance, my eldest daughter was there working, wearing a uniform at Quality Market/Loblaws and greeted me, brought me in (the) store, and had me sit saying she’d drive me home. Told her not to bother because she might get in trouble with work. She said she probably would but that was too bad because she was going to do so anyway.
“Started talking with others, and it morphed into a street scene with (my friend) Mary T and others about hair salons, and I kept making one chick laugh and spit out her soup in a white container. We were talking about the best hair places in Erie, and a black guy in our group with us made me write a list. It started with George H’s place, Headlines, Classivc Heads, and I asked them about Moxie, and they all agreed they didn’t like it. When I asked why they said ‘it’s because it’s too good.’ And I told them that my future possible daughter in law worked there then I woke up.”
May 3, 2021 MORNING still in hospital DREAM
This is an audio recording made at 7:07 a.m. I never thought I would be going home later this day (typing on 05222021 not sure what’s on here, but my voice sounds wasted) verbatim transcription:
“I was in a club. Or a restaurant, and I was up on the second floor, and we were working sound from the second floor.
“And there was a dollhouse there, where we had to put away all the doll house toys. Anyway, I was walking through the restaurant in a different part, and every time I came near a man, I would put my hands up like ‘Ewww’ and would wave them openly, and so that others would see me because it was like a men’s club, and I was mad at men, generally speaking, so I didn’t want to.
“And other people were going, ‘ew, look at, she’s avoiding men,’ and the women thought it was good but the men were calling me names and laughing at me.
“It is 705 am on May third.”
* * *
May 3, 2021 at 1:32 p.m. audio recording verbatim DREAM (this one is astounding! No recollection)
“Mmmswa a big celebration, party for a, my work, and um we were singing, we all sang together so beautifully, it was this harmony of people, about four of us women, and we just sang these songs and everybody stopped what they were doing to come out and see.
“A former co-worker named Brian S. was laying on a bed, he was asleep, he was passed out drunk and there was a big hole in his pillow form where he had fallen asleep with a cigarette. But he still continued to sleep, and somebody was walking around going, ‘is this, who’s strap is this? Is this your belt? Is this your strap?
“And nobody was paying attention to him and I realized it was mine, and it was the strap, the handles that are around my heart (reference to heart hugger I wore after surgery), my heart, my heart huggers, and then I said, ‘I think those are mine,’ so he gave them to me.”
* * *
May 3, 2021 – RELEASED!!! Michael said he would rather pick me up today rather than tomorrow. He is so sweet and loves me so much…
Julia was the kindness-radiating nurse who checked us out of the hospital and gave all the instructions, which I hand wrote to reinforce in my exhausted brain. I promptly forgot them all the minute I walked out the door.
AFTERNOON day 1 at home 4 PM- went to Arbys on the way home from hospital and arrived home around 4 pm. Ate a small amount of food, set up shop/bed in leather recliner in the corner of living room. Couldn’t quite sleep until about 5 am, unaccustomed to sleeping in the recliner. Breather to about 1000
Finally let the dogs get near, keeping them in the stairwell at bay for an hour, petting them through railing to make sure they would be calm around me. They were wonderful and subdued. One even slept near the recliner that night, which they had never done before. Night time was scary, heart was pounding and irregular and it was very difficult to catch my breath if any movement or walking was necessary. I felt scared.
Thoughts that perhaps I wasn’t really there permeated my psyche. I wanted to watch TV but felt too paranoid and it was difficult to focus. Did the dogs perceive me as some sort of rebuilt or reincarnated version of my original self? If so, were they right in their perception? Fell asleep around 5 am feeling quite frankenstein-y and rebuilt.
May 4 day 2 – Woke up around 8 sharp (ha ha nurse time?) Family members came over and put away lots of things I had brought home from the hospital after “living” there for about two weeks (entered on 4/22)
I sat at the kitchen table, grateful for everyone’s assistance, feeling my heart pound and race, trying to keep my breath
In afternoon took a nap in bed for first time and woke up DRENCHED, freezing and confused. Michael tenderly helped change my clothes while I cried at my helpless state.
May 5 day 3 – Two of my adult children came over, one vacuumed the other washed my hair. Thank God for them.
Breather consistently to 1500
May 6 day 4 – This is the day when I began to suffer from what I think of as “ghost pains.” One site was deep inside of my left breast, the other just behind my left knee. They both began to ache to the point where it almost became worrisome. I made Michael look at the back of my leg, where it sort of felt tender, to see if there were swelling or any outward showing of anything out of line, and he said it looked fine.
A tiny bit of agony set in early evening as I counted the minutes/hours until I could take my next dose of Tylenol.
I am suspecting these are two of the five anatomical sites where veins were harvested for my restoration and rebuilding project.
Michael was counting the minutes with me, feeling my pain. God, I love him so much!
May 7 – Probably the first day I started to feel like a human being again, didn’t count hours between pain doses, took at 11:30 a.m. and again at 8 pm. Fell asleep around that time and awoke around 11.
Found a very very slow pace that didn’t cause me to lose breath totally for first time.
breather to about 1750
May 16 – Have been to Walmart, antiquing here in town, walks around the yard. Still run out of breath going up steps, and other activities. My incision hurts like a bitch, especially painful is deep inside, most likely where they broke the sternum. OUCH. taking Tylenol every 12-24 hours and toughing out the rest. Have started dabbling in medical marijuana on an edible basis to try to help with pain. Chewing a bud is the only thing that seems to offer any relief.
August 14, 2021 – Although it’s very emotionally straining to look at these photos of myself, I have overcome nearly all obstacles, thank you God. My legs are healed, my incision doesn’t hurt anymore, my heartbeat has calmed down to 70 and life truly is grand.
In closing, I will say this – I can barely believe this really happened. Thanks to all who loved and cared and prayed to keep me going. I dedicate this writing to all of you and my Maker who chose to keep me around a little bit longer.
My beloved sister Laura washed my hair for me and I fixed it up a little to give myself and loved ones an optimistic smile. My children Sabrina, Angelina, Nicholas and Vinni were all so attentive and supportive and loving ~ My heart fills with love just thinking about them.